Can good nutrition help us get pregnant and carry healthy babies to term? Can the foods we eat actually prevent our children from having crooked teeth and needing braces and eyeglasses?
I interviewed Kristen Michaelis of the Food Renegade blog to find out the answers to these questions and more.
Kristen has just launched a new online class called Beautiful Babies.
If you want to learn more about how food impacts fertility and pregnancy, click here to learn more about the class.
Kristen is offering a special discount. Click here to sign up by November 15th and you’ll save $50!
Oh, and I also wanted to mention that for every class sold, Kristen is giving $5 to the Weston A. Price Foundation and $5 to the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund — two very important non-profit organizations that I support with my dollars and with my heart.
1. How can good nutrition help women get pregnant?
The entire process from conception through birth (and even breastfeeding) is regulated by hormones. If your balance of hormones is off, even in a minor way, it can sometimes be a huge impediment to actually getting pregnant or carrying the baby to term.
Good nutrition is one of the primary keys to hormone regulation. It’s so simple and straightforward that it always amazes me that more women don’t turn to nutrition earlier in their fertility struggles.
2. How can good nutrition help women have an easier pregnancy and delivery?
Some elements of having an easier pregnancy are casually averted with better nutrition — like swelling and varicose veins. That’s just a matter of not having enough protein in the diet to support both your own cellular structural integrity AND building your baby.
Other things are much more nuanced, but still highly influenced by nutrition — like morning sickness and cravings. These are usually caused by a handful of nutrient-deficiencies, but usually have to do with your body’s nutrient stores prior to pregnancy.
Simply taking a supplement for that particular nutrient once you’re already pregnant and suffering is rarely helpful. For one thing, nutrients don’t work in isolation. In order to properly make use of the nutrients you’re consuming, you’ve got to have an entire network of other nutrients in balance, too.
Also, you’ve got to have good intestinal flora and gut health so that you can properly digest your foods. But perhaps the biggest obstacle to immediately reversing something like morning sickness is that there are nutrients that take a while to “re-stock” in your body.
Anybody who’s tried to improve their Vitamin D levels, for example, knows that it can sometimes take months to get those back up to adequate levels, even when you’ve got daily sun exposure going on and are faithfully supplementing your diet with enough fermented cod liver oil or other Vitamin D rich foods. And by the time months have passed, you may already be passed pregnancy and are instead nursing your little one. This is why it makes sense to follow the model of traditional cultures which dedicated at least 6 months to eating a highly nourishing fertility diet before couples tried to conceive. You’ve got to replenish your body’s nutrient stores!
3. What are the most important things to include in your diet if you are trying to conceive or are pregnant?
Oh, that’s a good question. One of the biggest nutrients missing from the modern woman’s diet is saturated fat. We’re all scared stiff of getting fat or getting heart disease, so we don’t eat enough fat. Your body needs saturated fat and cholesterol to build hormones.
Depriving your body of the basic building blocks of the hormones you’re trying to produce to conceive is simply unwise. Along with fat, however, you need a lot of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, K, & E. And you also need a good supply of vitamins B12, B6, and folate, in addition to magnesium and choline.
The best way to get these nutrients in foods is to:
1. Include animal fats or coconut oil in your cooking and only eat full-fat dairy from pastured animals
2. Eat eggs from pastured hens
3. Eat nutrient-rich seafood like oysters, clams, fish roe, and fatty wild-caught fish
4. Eat liver from pastured animals
5. Avoid nutrient-depleting things like caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and stress
4. Can we really prevent our children from needing to get braces and eyeglasses?
Absolutely! People assume that these things are genetic — and they are. But “genetic” doesn’t mean what we thought it meant. Researchers are now starting to understand the role of epigenetics, which allows us to determine which genes are expressed or not.
And epigenetics are very malleable, particularly when in the womb and in early childhood. If you eat the right foods during these developmental stages, you can literally turn the “good” genes on and the “bad” genes off!
5. What would you say the top 10 foods are for pregnant women or women trying to conceive?
Just 10? I’d go with (in no particular order):
Eggs from pastured hens
Liver from pastured animals
Butter from pastured animals
Raw milk cheeses from pastured cows or goats
Yogurt or kefir from pastured cows or goats
Wild-caught fatty fish like salmon
Fermented foods to aid digestion
Coconut oil or animal fats to cook with
6. What would you say to a woman who has been trying to conceive for a long time, say months or even years? What are the most important changes she should make to her diet?
First, I’d say you’re not in this alone. Your fertility isn’t just on your shoulders. In 40% of fertility issues, the problem has to do with the male’s sperm being unhealthy or insufficient. His fertility can naturally be increased through diet as well, so you should both work together in making these changes and supporting each other.
The single most important change for the woman is to make sure you’re getting plenty of saturated fat. That’s not a cure-all; it’s just statistically the most likely cause for female infertility.
For the males, having the right balance of Omega 6:Omega 3 fatty acids in the diet is absolutely critical. (It’s important for the female as well, but studies have shown that this more than any other thing can affect the viability of sperm.)
In traditional food cultures, Omega-6:Omega-3 balance was at 4:1 or lower, with fewer than 4% of all their fat colories coming from polyunsaturated fats (found mostly in nuts, seeds, and the oils made from them).
7. Is it important for men to make changes to their diets as well?
Ha! I guess I jumped the gun in that last question. YES! See above. Males are just as responsible for infertility as women, and the same dietary improvements that help women will also inevitably help men.
8. What are some things women can do to make breastfeeding easier?
The first thing is to be informed. So many women take their breastfeeding advice from doctors (who admittedly know very little on the subject) or other women (who, more often than not, had difficulty nursing and assume everyone else will too).
What you want is advice from women who’ve been successful at nursing — who’ve nursed their kids well into (if not past) their second year. Those women know how to handle hurdles and challenges, and it’s their wisdom and support you want!
If none of your peers fit the bill, you could try to find a group of women locally through organizations such as La Leche League, or you could go online to communities like Kellymom.com and get to know women there.